A prerequisite for hogging the ball by keeping it airborne is a strong-armed, durable quarterback. The Steelers have one.
Roethlisberger helps Steelers pass the test
The transformation is complete.
There is no greater evidence that pro football has evolved into a pass-first, pass-second sport than the blueprint followed by the Pittsburgh Steelers against the New England Patriots last week.
"We needed to control the ball and keep their offence off the field," Mike Tomlin, the Pittsburgh coach, said. "We tried to control it with the pass a little bit."
A little bit? Of 73 offensive plays, 50 were passes by a franchise long associated with a power running game. Remarkably, the Steelers were in possession for 39-plus minutes, almost two-thirds of the clock in their 25-17 win.
A prerequisite for hogging the ball by keeping it airborne, once considered conflicting notions, is a strong-armed, durable quarterback. The Steelers have one.
"We were able to do that," Tomlin said of the game plan, "with Ben Roethlisberger."
The Steelers are on track to set an unofficial team record for most lopsided pass-run ratio. Two seasons ago, they stuck to the ground on 42.2 per cent of plays.
Management wanted fewer passes; in 2010 the Steelers ran 47.4 per cent of the time, a formula which got them to the Super Bowl.
But Tomlin is willing to fly the friendly skies with fleet receivers who can run to the ball and complement the old reliables, Hines Ward and Heath Miller.
The Steelers are throwing the ball just a tick under 60 per cent of the time this season. Difficult to drag down, Roethlisberger holds the ball longer than most passers, thus taking shots to his wide frame that have made him a regular on the injury report.
During a recent televised interview, he complained that game officials show preferential treatment toward high-profile quarterbacks by calling extra penalties against the defences.
"They want to protect those guys because they are the marquee guys in the league," Roethlisberger said, excluding himself, "and you don't want to get them hurt."
If the eight-year veteran does not belong to the elite group, it is time to induct him.
Last week, he received his eighth designation as AFC Offensive Player of the Week. Two Super Bowl rings and a runner-up finish, all within six years, offer further persuasive evidence.
"Ben is playing as well the last four weeks as he's played his whole career," said coach John Harbaugh of the Ravens, today's opponent.
Well enough for his coach to call 50 pass plays while in ball-control mode.